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June 28 – July 20 2002 Clarke Thelon River Trip log


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The Clarke Thelon River system is the easy way into the Thelon Game Sanctuary avoiding all portages that Thelon.gif (30087 bytes)can make the trip a much more demanding trip. We chose to get there through Transwest Air in Lynn Lake, as it is a much shorter trip than going through Yellowknife for anyone coming from Manitoba or anywhere south and east of us. The flight from Lynn Lake is longer and more expensive than from Yellowknife but you avoid the trip to Yellowknife.

The trip team consisted of Art, Bob, Roy, Frixos, Joe, and Ross. Joe and Ross where new additions to the team as a 6 person team filled a twin otter and was the most cost effective way of getting to our starting point on the Clarke.

We packed up and met with Joe and Ross as they were coming in from Ontario early afternoon of June 28th. With 2 large pickups we had plenty of room of all our gear and 21 days of food. We were off for Lynn Lake. It is a full day trip and our flight was scheduled for Sunday morning so we spent a night a Hobb’s Camp hobbs.jpg (41440 bytes)on Cedar Lake just north of Grand Rapids. This gave us plenty of time on Saturday to visit Pisew Falls  pisew.jpg (35307 bytes)south of Thompson on our way to Lynn Lake. The falls are quite spectacular and well worth the side trip to see.

We made a quick stop in Thompson to top up our supplies and eat. The road to Lynn Lake is better than I had expected from the comments I had heard but it is a mix of pavement and gravel sections.

June 29th we arrive in Lynn Lake and check in with Transwest Air . We are ready for our fight tomorrow morning. We head out for a camping site ready to start of our great northern adventure. The next morning looks dull and dismal. After packing we head of to the Transwest Air  to learn that flights are not making it through to their destination due to low visibility. There are a number of flights backed up. We head off for a breakfast at Lynn Inn and a day touring the sites of Lynn Lake.

It is disheartening to see the conditions the mine companies have left the town. Many boarded up buildings, many burned homes. The mine tailing are quickly killing the surrounding life. It surprises me that government that have professed for a hundred years that the north is the future have let the devastation go on and have seemed to be able to do little to enhance the life of these northern communities. Lynn Lake will need provincial help to stay alive and it is in Manitoba’s best interests keep towns in the north viable.

Joe is a former Inco employee from Sudbury and gives us a informed tour of the mine operation in the area.

The weather does not improve and we spend the night a Lynn Inn rather than set up camp again in the rain. Along with a number of fishermen from the states are a geological survey team and a large group of canoeists from a camp in Minnesota waiting for a plane out. Looks like we will be spending Canada Day in Lynn Lake and not on the Clarke River as planned.

Canada Day in Lynn Lake is quiet as everything is closed but we do help them celebrate by joining the parade route with flags and enthusiasm. Even in the wet weather, people are out enjoying the day. The main problem for celebrations is no fireworks, as darkness does not fall early in Lynn Lake.

Another night at the Lynn Inn, with a promise to get us out tomorrow. At least we get to see Brazil knock off Germany in the world’s cup. The weather is a very unusual delay. The fishermen say this is there first delay in more than 20 years.

We get up early and we prepare for the trip. The low clouds have risen. At Transwest Air  we pack the plane. It is a tight squeeze to get 3 canoes and all our gear in a twin otter.

We are off for Kasba Lake our refueling stop at the Four Corners (Saskatchewan, Manitoba NWT, Nunavut). Now it’s off to the Clarke. We pass over tundra – frozen lakes. Lake Dubuant is frozen almost solid. The American canoeists are going to need their planned forty days to get though their trip. We are heading a little more west and are hoping our proposed landing site is ice free. Finally we see the Clarke, clark1.jpg (56127 bytes)the lake is open the sun is shining, the weather warm. The plane touched down softly on the water. Our pilot Todd can park this plane like a Vokeswagon. We unpack and the 6 of us are soon abandoned on the banks of the Clarke. We can hear the wolves disturbed by the commotion. First things first. We take a swim before packing the canoes for the first campsite. The water is cold about half an inch.

We had not planned to travel far the first day. Even though we were a couple of days late getting in we had plenty of time to do our 350k trip. We looked for a campsite and quickly found an excellent spot used often, as there were signs of ancient tent rings and stone tool flaking sites in and around our camp.

Fish for dinner and breakfast was a delightful addition. The screened gazebo was an oasis from the mosquitoes. Anyone from Winnipeg would be amazed at how big and plentiful they could be. We hiked the tundra behind our camp. The barren lands moniker does not do it justice, as it is a place of variety and beauty. Here in what is considered the Thelon valley is a treed environment where wildlife abounds judging from the footprints as all mammals seemed to keep well out of site. clark4.jpg (63405 bytes)

The day goes on and on, the sun does set close to midnight and rises before 3:00 am but it is never very dark. The Clarke is a fast flowing little river with lots of ripples and class 1 rapids that are easy to maneuver. The valley is full of birds, Canada Geese, ducks, hawks, falcons and eagles. The tundra is covered by caribou trails where hundreds of thousand caribou make there way to and from the Beverly Lake calving area to the tree line for winter. The canyons and sand dunes of the Clarke provide for an enchanting voyage on our first 2 days down to the mighty Thelon. It is hot warm enough to take a very quick swim in the river.clark3.jpg (106661 bytes) clarke4.jpg (47006 bytes) clarke5.jpg (59771 bytes)

The hikes through the sand dunes prove that the grizzley roams the barrens leaving prints deep in the sand but we still glimpse only an arctic hare. Then as we are about to end our paddling day we site a light brown musk ox on the bank. It gives us a cursory glance and moves off slowly up the bank and out of site.

The weather is cooling off as we approach the Thelon junction. thelon1.jpg (85555 bytes)A hike is in the offing to see what we had missed by not starting on the upper Thelon. The Thelon canyon cuts deep into the rocks. The rapids are massive at the start of the 5-mile gorge. We are happy to have avoided the long portage. The water runs fast and cold. It is not a place to test your paddling skills to the max. We camp on a large gravel bar where the rivers meet. The next day we tackle the Thelon under the rust red cliffs to get to the Hanbury. There is a major rapid to run. It may be considered a class 2 but the cold and river speed make us scout it carefully. On a cool day no one wants to spend time in this river.

We successfully get to the Hanbury and line upstream to a campsite as we plan a long hike to Helene's Falls the next day. One good thing about cool windy days is the freedom from bugs. On windless days they can be gruesome, especially if you are not partial to them as condiments with your drinks and meals.

The hike to Helene's Falls helene.jpg (86708 bytes)was done almost straight line, not recommended. Through dwarf birch shrubs over tundra hummocks, though treed thickets around and through muskeg and bogs, a great variety of flora. The falls were worth the trip. An overhung falls with a spray of water filling the air. A rough-legged hawk nesting in the cliffs downstream ripped apart a diner for its young. The cairn at the falls contains a log of those who passed over the past 40 years. Here in a land almost untouched by people the list of fellow travelers is not long. There are as many signs of ancient civilizations as there is of us. We do not make the same mistake on our way back to our campsite and we follow the eskers and sand dunes. No caribou are sited but trails are everywhere.

Back down the Hanbury to the Thelon we go. The wind picks up and the rain falls, we are looking for Wardens Grove. In a place with no signposts to find your way a GPS simplifies the search for any site but you have to have accurate information to start with. The Wardens cabin from 1928 still exists. It has been used by archeologists in the past but is in poor condition. It does provide us with a warm sheltered place for lunch. The Game Sanctuary was started to save the musk ox and we had seen one. I hope we do better in the next week.

We continue down stream, a golden eagle on the riverbank seems to be as weathered as we are from the cold wind and rain. As the rain stops we hike up the Gap, a high point on the river with a cairn and a view of the Grassy Islands beyond. Hiking in this land is very deceiving. The hill seems to move and grow as you approach them but a good hike on a cool day is a great way to stay warm. We camp opposite Grassy Island trying hard not to disturb a nesting bird in our campsite area. The evening brings a clear sky and no wind. A wolf is sited far down stream as a white dot on the shore. The mosquitoes hum us to sleep. It is great to have good equipment. The tents remain a bug free haven and our tundra tarp makes for a tolerable eating location.thelon2.jpg (83315 bytes) flowers.jpg (129409 bytes)  flowers3.jpg (70968 bytes)flowers2.jpg (92295 bytes) flow.jpg (39819 bytes) Frixos Canoe.jpg (373957 bytes)

The sun slowly sets and I mean slowly. It is a beautiful night. The birds sing and the mosquitoes hum.

As we start the day we interrupt 2 moose on the riverbank. They wander off. It is amazing how such a large animal can quickly disappear. Past Grassy Island is a high point on the river where Inuit hunters waited for caribou. We hike up the hill and can view the barrens for miles in every direction. Any animals have kept well hidden. It is not as if they do not know we are there, the birds announcing our coming well in advance. The sand saves the footprints of all that were there in the past few days. There have been lots of animals as well as other people.

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Down stream at a swift we do some fishing. A couple of canoes catch and pass us (two American couples from Chicago and Wisconsin). They are on their way to Baker Lake after starting well up the Thelon on lakes north of Saskatchewan. We continue down stream towards Waterfall Glade looking for a campsite. We found a site opposite the glade as the sites there were taken by the Americans. We did have fish for dinner. It had been a long day and we were treated to another long sunset.

The riverbanks are steep, plowed by the ice for 50 to 60 feet from the current water level. We had seen large blocks of ice on the banks and snow still packed into low protected areas in the low hills. Waterfall Glade has been plowed flat and makes a great site with a 50 waterfall from the high hills behind the campsite. We head a little down stream to check out Ernie Kite’s cairn. From there we see a cow moose on the opposite bank. It was getting hot and sunny. With little wind we raft together and have lunch floating down river at 7kph.

We find Jack Hornby’s cabin hornbys.jpg (111601 bytes)Hornby_Cabin.jpg (816353 bytes)Hornby Graves.jpg (970873 bytes)by the tree stumps still in front of it. Jack convinced the Canadian Government to create the sanctuary but had the misfortune of missing the caribou when he decided to winter here in 1926/27. He starved to death with his friend Harold Adlar and his nephew Edgar Christian. Edgar’s diary of their plight was found in their stove and their graves are marked just outside the cabin. We had a quick swim at the cabin then continued down the Thelon to a small stream to fish. hornby.jpg (117070 bytes)It was hot, swimming was better than fishing.

We camped down stream and watched the arctic terns hover in the wind over the river picking bugs off the surface. They were not pleased to be sharing their location with the gulls. Rain again, It does not rain hard here but seems to rain often. The weather changes quickly. With the disintegrating of a nice day we went to bed early and left the tundra to the birds and mosquitoes.

Thunder storms, storm.jpg (37342 bytes)they are fairly rare in the tundra and they miss us all day until we are ready to eat. Fortunately we have scotch, a nice break from the usual. We retreat to our tents have a drink play cribbage and wait out the storm. Next day a little hiking and a float down river. Though the rocky canyons we float upsetting the hawks that scream at our presence. We stop at a stream in hope of good fishing. While some of us hike through the tundra, Roy catches a 32-inch by 14-inch lake trout. It makes a great dinner with the lemon penne pasta.

We start the day with a short hike to give our tents some time to dry and then take to the river. Down stream we plan to hike to a pingo.pingo.jpg (24917 bytes) It is about 4 k from the river across varied tundra. A moat surrounds the pingo full off siksik holes. The siksik as always, remain well hidden. They do not want to attract the grizzly that digs them out for dinner. It was a wet walk through the moat but the rain kept us from being dry anyway. At camp tonight the patter on the tent walls is not the mosquito.

We finally get to Lookout Point. Another Inuit site used far into the past, providing a great view of the rivers and tundra surrounding us. There is sand everywhere, a sandbar in the river, huge sand beaches and dunes drifting across the tundra. We camp at a huge beach on the Finnie River just upstream from the Thelon. There is a tern nest at the far end of the beach and they are not happy to share their end of the beach with anyone. They attach any that approach.

While leaving the Finnie, site we see an arctic hare on an island in the Thelon. We do a few short hikes and as we approach a campsite for the night see a large arctic wolf nearby. We do find more signs of more recent human habitation, part of a novel and a rusty can. Usually we only find archaic remains as the people coming to this area make a effort to leave it pristine but there were a lot of trappers early in the century and they may have been less concerned.

It was windy and it was cold. We were paddling into the wind most of the day. We get a break as the high riverbanks protect us from the wind. There on the bank ahead Ross sees two moving black spots. As we approach, a plane flies overhead. muskox.jpg (62652 bytes)We fear that the muskox have been spooked but land and climb the bank to see them sill close by. They back off a little as we approach but then change tactics and approach us. As with did not back off they make a short run. Deciding we are not a threat they saunter off around a small pond and then up and over a hill. muskox2.jpg (38086 bytes)

We finally get to Nunavut. It was rainy windy and cold we pass the area Tyrrell named crossing of the deer. It is a wide flat area where it would be easy for caribou to cross and as always there were many trails here. The wind was very strong and it was cold. It was time to stop and warm up. We built a fire and dried out had dinner and went to bed early.

We had listened to the wind and waves all night but by morning it was dry and the wind much less. It was much easier to make good time on the river. We met our second group on the river, a Tundra Tom party out of Yellowknife. They had just weathered yesterday and were waiting for a plane out. Too bad this day was beautiful.canoe.jpg (25158 bytes) We continued downstream and finally saw them. About 30 caribou walk the shore towardscaribou.jpg (74802 bytes) us very unconcerned about out presence. They walk by as we snapped pictures. We were ahead of schedule and floated for a while in the warm day’s sun. More caribou are sighted both on shore and crossing the river.caribou3.jpg (53633 bytes) Then further downstream we see about 20 crossing the river. They are very anxious about us. There is a large herd of about 500 caribou on shorecaribou2.jpg (58809 bytes). We land to try to get a closer view. We try to stay down wind. The shore is lined with a thick bush of dwarf birch. We make our way through trying not to spook the herd. We do spook the wolf that was prowling for its dinner. A very large white arctic wolf bounded out of the bush in front of us. He spooked the herd and it quickly moved away. In the distance we notice the hill turning gray as another large herd moves down it towards the Tammarvi River. We are now past the Ursus Islands.

We continue on to the Kigarvi River were we camp for the night. We do some hiking and as we settle down for a evening drink see a wolf prowling the bush for dinner. It’s good to know that they do not see us as an easy target but something to be very wary of.

It is windy again. A very tough paddle into the wind before the river turns and the wind is finally at our back. Tundra Tom has lost a canoe as we notice one almost buried in the sand on an island. The weather is windy and rainy again. We head for the water resources cabin and stop for lunch and an extended stay while waiting for the weather to improve. The cabin contains a picture of the water level at the cabin door. It would be a 50-foot raise to get to that level from the current level. As we leave the cabin a small moose is seen across the river. We climb the Thelon bluffs and rebuild an old cairn there. The view from here is spectacular. We have left the treed part of the Thelon valley. We are now truly in the barrens. We camp at a site 15k from were we will be picked up. It will be a short easy paddle tomorrow.

Another great day we can float to our pickup site in only a couple of hours. We find a great archaic site, littered with kayak parts, qamutiq parts and tent rings.ring.jpg (100720 bytes) Lots of stone implements cover the ground. This site has been used for a long time. We hike to Beverly Lake. We pass Inuit graves and more stone rings.

Again we see wolves on each side of the river and a caribou crossing the river. We come across a jeager having a meal, more concerned about losing its meal than of us.jeager.jpg (44160 bytes)

We wait for the plane. Off in the distance as it approaches 6:00 PM we see a twin otter quickly bear down directly on us. GPS’s are wonderful. We had provided exact coordinates and they arrived right at the point. We quickly loaded and departed our Thelon trip over.



Another 2002 Thelon Trip





















John Hornby


Tomassee Nunamiutaq Sapumijii Nunamik


Nueltin Lake fueling stop on return trip



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Last modified: Friday November 01, 2002.